by Michael Caruso
The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, hosted an unusually scheduled summertime Choral Evensong Sunday, Aug. 11. The inspiration for the special event was the presence of the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II, and the first female Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom’s Parliament. In November, she will take up her new post of Bishop of Dover in the Province of Canterbury of the Church of England.
The service was a joint endeavor by St. Martin’s Church and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, also of Chestnut Hill. As parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, they are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, founded by missionaries sent out by that very Church of England.
In the absence of St. Martin’s music director, Erik Meyer, St. Paul’s music director, Andrew Kotylo, took over the reins of the combined parish choirs. They sang music composed by Martin Neary, Charles Villiers Stanford and Edward Bairstow. Kotylo, himself, bookended the choral portions of the liturgy with solo organ music written by Herbert Howells and Stanford.
Considering the distinctive nature of the service, it wasn’t at all surprising that a larger than normal congregation was on hand to experience both the preaching of the Rev. Hudson-Wilkin and the singing and playing of the choir and Kotylo.
It was in Bairstow’s “Save us, O Lord” that the afternoon’s finest singing was heard. The piece, itself, is an exquisite setting of a text perfectly suited to an evening liturgy: a gentle plea for Christ to watch over his faithful flock of believers as they sleep. Bairstow has the men begin the singing, with the women following after them and filling out the full-voiced harmony. With Kotylo expertly conducting from the organ console, the choir projected the score’s legato lines with immaculate blend, measured balances, crisp diction, and broad dynamics.
The choral settings of the traditional texts of the “Magnificat” and the “Nunc dimittis” were composed by Stanford. He seems to have succumbed to the temptation of starting the former with a little too broad of a nod to the imperial splendor of the earth-straddling British Empire, not paying much attention to the intimate character of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s personal profession of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, by the time he reached the text, “And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations,” Stanford seems to have taken in the actual meaning of the words and accommodated his music to them.
His setting of the “Nunc dimittis,” on the other hand, hit the mark of the text beautifully. The score proffers the autumnal mood of St. Simeon’s grateful response to God’s fulfillment of his promise through music of gentle harmonies and graceful phrasings.
Under Kotylo’s expert direction and accompaniment, the choir sang both works with admirable ensemble and eloquent projection. Kotylo was no less successful as the solo organist in Howells’ “Psalm Prelude, Set 1, No. 2” at the prelude and Stanford’s “Voluntary in D,” Opus 105, No. 6, at the postlude. He played with sensitivity and brilliance.
Erik Meyer, St. Martin’s music director, offered a recap of the situation regarding the parish’s pipe organ during a recent conversation at the church.
“In late February,” he said, “on a very cold night, there was a malfunction of the heating system that involved freezing and then thawing. The roof leaked and, as a result, the ‘swell’ division of pipes suffered water damage. It’s about a quarter of the organ’s pipes.”
Meyer went on to explain that the parish had engaged the local organ builder/repairer Patrick Murphy for the project.
“Patrick’s a fine restorer,” Meyer continued. “He exhibits restraint, and that’s the right thing to do. He directs his efforts to restoring the organ to the way it should sound.
“He’ll need to remove the ‘swell’ pipes and a portion of the chests in order to repair them,” Meyer said. “There’s relatively little damage and we will be able to use the rest of the organ while Patrick is repairing those portions that were damaged.”
Meyer said that the church will be insulated so that there won’t be wide swings in temperature in the future. The latest technology will be employed so that its reverberant acoustics won’t be altered.
“Fortunately,” Meyer added, “the parish’s insurance policy covered the incident, so there won’t be any fundraising needed to complete the repairs.”